The Ultimate Guide to a Career in Customer Support, Service, & Success

Written By Sophia Bernazzani

Everything you need to know to get started building a career in a customer-facing role.

Whether you’re in your first job in customer support, or you've been working in customer success for the last five years, odds are, you might be thinking, "what’s next?"

That's a natural question to ask over the progression of any career, but it might be of particular relevance to you if you're a customer-facing professional. Because the fields of customer supportcustomer service, and customer success are so new and so rapidly-evolving, you might feel like there is less clarity for the next step in your career.

Luckily, we're here to help with our comprehensive guide to career building, different paths you can take, and how to build a customer team if you're already managing or growing a customer-facing team.

For the purposes of this overview, we're going to refer to this field broadly as customer service (for a clear breakdown of customer support versus customer service versus customer success, read this guide). But in each section, we’ll distinguish between the three disciplines (if needed).

Customer Service Careers

There are a variety of different careers and career paths you can pursue in a customer-facing role. Here’s a basic breakdown of different career paths and options you can pursue in customer service, customer support, and customer success.

Customer Support Careers

Career Objective:

The career objective of customer support is to respond to customer requests and issues as quickly and with as little friction as possible. Customers should be able to reach out to customer support across a variety of different channels and quickly get a response from customer support. Customer support professionals work on the front lines of customer-facing organizations —reacting, triaging, and responding to incoming customer requests to help retain customers by helping them use the product or service.

Customer Support Jobs:

Here’s a short list of different jobs you could pursue in a career in customer support:

1. Customer Support Rep

A customer support rep works on the front lines of customer support, typically in an entry-level role at a company. They’re responsible for answering phone calls, live chats, emails, web tickets, and social media messaging incoming from customers.

2. Customer Support Engineer

Customer support engineers are customer support professionals with technical engineering experience who can assist customers with troubleshooting and improving specific technology issues.

3. Multilingual Customer Support Specialist

Multilingual customer support specialists might be needed at companies that sell products or services that are globally sold and used.

4. Remote Customer Support Rep

Remote customer support reps might work on distributed or fully-remote support teams fulfilling customer support requests from home or from a workspace.

5. Customer Support Manager

Customer service managers manage a team of customer support reps and engineers and are responsible for the team collectively hitting goals to reduce customer wait time and increase number of customer cases solved.

Customer Support Salaries:

According to Glassdoor, the average customer support salary in the U.S. is $35,245, which is a reflection of the fact that a lot of customer support roles are entry-level.

Customer Service Careers

Career Objective:

The career objective of customer service is similar to that of customer support, but it’s more proactive. Instead of reacting to customers’ incoming requests and problems, customer service is about a business proactively reaching out to customers to guide them with helpful suggestions and recommendations.

Customer Service Jobs:

Here’s a short list of different jobs you could pursue in a career in customer support:

1. Customer Service Rep

Similar to customer support reps, customer service reps are typically entry-level professionals who spend time reaching out to customers with company communications, new product offers, and proactive troubleshooting.

2. Customer Service Engineer

Customer service engineers are technically-trained customer service professionals who can assist customers with product troubleshooting and can offer proactive solutions.

3. Customer Service Manager

Customer service managers manage teams of customer service reps and are responsible for the team hitting goals.

Customer Service Salaries:

According to Glassdoor, the average customer service salary in the U.S. is $34,780.

Customer Success Careers

Career Objective:

The career objective of customer success is to work proactively in partnership with customers to help them achieve goals and see value using a product or service. Customer success involves onboarding customers with new products and services, regularly touching base with proactive guidance, upselling and cross-selling new products, and eventually reaching the point where happy customers who are satisfied with your product and your customer service will become vocal advocates, driving new business by referring friends and colleagues.

Customer Success Jobs:

1. Customer Success Manager

Customer success managers work with a number of customers on product onboarding, account management, and campaign execution. Customer success management involves proactive collaboration on a regular basis to ensure customers are getting value from the product or service.

2. Implementation Specialist

Implementation specialists are responsible for onboarding customers with products and software so they start off on the right food and avoid technical difficulties.

3. Customer Success Team Lead

Customer success team leads are responsible for leading teams of customer success managers to reduce customer churn, increase customer lifetime value, and drive new customer referrals.

Customer Success Salaries:

According to Glassdoor, the average customer success manager salary in the U.S. is $78,818.

Customer Service Career Paths

Working in a customer-facing role can be very rewarding and teach you a lot of valuable, transferable skills. Below are a few career paths you could pursue — within customer success, or on a different team. Here’s a quick rundown of where you can take your customer skills:

Customer Service

You can grow your career in customer service in a few ways.

  • You can become a people manager and lead a team of customer-facing professionals.
  • You can specialize in a specific product or service and become a more technical customer service professional.
  • You can specialize in writing help content for your company’s knowledge base.
  • You can work in customer service operations, aligning and collaborating with leaders of other departments within your company.
  • You can work your way up to the executive level and serve as your company’s chief customer officer — a newer executive role that’s responsible for representing the voice of the customer and metrics of the customer-facing teams.

Sales

If you’re interested in a different career path, your customer service skills can also help you build a career in sales.

Working with customers will teach you exactly how customers can use your company's product or service to achieve their goals — and you can use this knowledge and experience if you decide to move into sales. Social proof is an effective selling tool, and if you can tell prospects on the phone exactly how your product or service has helped other customers, they might be more interested in closing a deal with you.

Product

Another path you might pursue is in a role on your product team after gaining experience and expertise with your product or service — because if you know the product inside and out, you might be able to build it, too. If you develop some chops for product development — whether that consists of software engineering, outreach, or vendor management — you might be able to use your wealth of knowledge to facilitate a transition away from the phones and behind-the-scenes helping build the product you're teaching customers how to use.

Marketing

Product knowledge is incredibly valuable for your marketing team, too. Whether you want to write for the blog, conduct product and market research, or manage social media support channels, in-depth product expertise and killer communication skills could help you land a role on your marketing team. Additionally, if your company has a customer marketing team, you could help build effective customer communications and advocacy programs based on your knowledge of customer habits and trends.

Building a Customer Service Team

If you're leading or helping scale a customer-facing team at your company, you might be wondering: Which area of customer service should you focus on first — customer support, customer service, or customer success?

Michael Redbord, General Manager of HubSpot’s Service Hub, suggests focusing on building a high-functioning customer support team first. (Read this blog post to get his formula for how many customer support reps to hire, and when.)

“In 2018, great customer support is a competitive imperative and market force,” Redbord said. “If you're a new entrant into an industry, I guarantee that more than one of your competitors has a great customer support organization already — and you can't ignore that.”

To that end, he suggests building a strong customer support team with enough reps to meet customer needs first. Once your team can handle incoming tickets at a reasonable rate, then, you can start thinking about what’s next.

Redbord identified a few key moments when it’s time to think about building a team specifically dedicated to proactive customer success in addition to reactive customer support:

1. After you establish a great customer support function and are looking to expand the positive impact of your service team, this is the ideal time to build a customer success team. It helps keep you ahead of the demands of your customers, which is right where you want to be.

2. After your product reaches a sufficient point of complexity that users require human help to gain and expand the value they see from using it, you might make it a mission to achieve "churn reduction" and provide onboarding and "goal-based" help.

3. If you don't manage or reduce that complexity, you'll inevitably have a spike of customers canceling — and a big mess on your hands as you grow. Establishing a team to proactively manage existing accounts is absolutely imperative at this point.

4. Once your offerings expand sufficiently, you have an opportunity for upselling and cross-selling. At this point, a customer success team can carry an upgrade number and potentially provide a positive ROI for the business.

5. After your upgrade rate has stabilized and the key opportunity becomes in keeping more customers, customer success teams again become appealing.

Customer Service Hiring

Whether you’re applying for a new job in customer service or you’re reviewing applicants for an open role on your team, here are a few key skills and traits you should be looking for when you’re writing or reviewing resumes and cover letter, even if the candidates are interviewing for entry-level roles:

1. People Skills

You’re looking for a candidate who can connect well with people so they can help your customers as effectively as possible — so candidates whose resumes demonstrate that they play well with others and know how to build rapport and problem-solve as needed.

2. Technical Familiarity

Candidates don’t need to be an expert at using your product or service, but they need to be able to demonstrate that they have technical familiarity and can quickly a) learn how to use your product, and b) explain it to confused or frustrated customers.

3. Communication Skills

Customer-facing professionals need to be able to communicate effectively — across different media and in a variety of different situations. Candidates need to be able to speak well, write clearly, and communicate across short-form social media, too.

These are just a few of the most important skills to look for on a customer service resume. If you're looking for more, check out this guide on customer service skills to interview for.

Customer Service Interview Questions

To identify and scan for the right candidates for different customer-facing roles, here are a few interview questions to ask:

1. What was your biggest failure in your previous role, and how did you recover from it?

This question helps assess coachability and honesty. Everybody has failed, but the important part is did the candidate learn from it — or do they blame someone else for it?

2. What is your definition of empathy?

Good answers will include a concrete example that goes beyond simply apologizing to a customer — it should demonstrate how they used understanding and rapport-building to create a strong relationship with a customer — and help solve their problem effectively.

3. What does good customer service mean to you?

Listen for an answer that speaks to the candidate's empathy and appreciation for customers, demonstrates their ability to teach without patronizing, and shows their commitment to contributing to a company's mission by helping and advocating for others.

4. How do you deliver bad news to customers?

Stuff happens. Ask the candidate how they diplomatically share tough news while keeping a customer positive and engaged — or give them a scenario based on a past customer support issue reps have had to tackle — to get a sense of their ability to adapt to challenges and bounce back.

5. How would you explain our product in a single sentence?

This question tests the candidate's preparation for the interview, but it also gives them the chance to flex their communication skills and technological muscles to accurately explain what they're proposing to help customers with in the prospective role.

For more ideas for questions to ask in your next interview, read more customer service interview questions and customer success interview questions next.

Over To You

The most important thing to bear in mind when you think about your career progression in the customer service world is to keep your eyes open to opportunities. Having a pulse on customer needs and goals is invaluable and can help you excel in any profession, so once you figure out what you want to do with your customer-facing skills, there are plenty of options out there for you.